Original liner notes:
The important fact to know is that a songwriter founded Motown Records.
Berry Gordy Jr. built his reputation and his business on songs, first for Jackie Wilson in the fifties and, later, for the young, hopeful singers he discovered and nurtured at his own record company in Detroit in the sixties. Gordy thought of these songs as his children. He even borrowed the names of his real offspring, Joy, Berry and Terry, when choosing an identity JoBeTe Music for his publishing company.
As a writer in the days before Motown, Gordy knew that success meant having more than one performer record his work. That validated his composing talent and put more money in the bank. As an owner of songs once Motown, and Jobete, was up and running, Gordy put those copyrights to work. Determined to control the destiny of his young business with as little outside help as possible, he developed an in-house team of writers and producers who worked and competed passionately, encouraging them to experiment with singers and songs to find the best match.
A tune which didn't suit one performer was tried out on another and, if necessary, another. Lyrics and melodies would be changed or modified; a backing track was saved for a future studio date. Lead vocals by one artist might be removed, and replaced by those of another. As Motown developed from three-track to eight-track recording in January 1965, the mixing and matching became easier. And as the company began to assemble albums to match the torrid success rate of its singles output, the depth of its songwriting talent became even more essential.
The epicenter of this activity was the Friday morning A&R meeting, held at the Motown headquarters on 2648 West Grand Boulevard, Detroit. Gordy's team including Smokey Robinson, Eddie and Brian Holland and Lamont Dozier, Mickey Stevenson, Johnny Bristol, Norman Whitfield, Ivy Jo Hunter and Hank Cosby would present their week's work on acetates, hoping to win the approval of the room.
Some producers would test their mettle on songs that had already been hits: change the groove, the tempo, the inflections. Anything to catch an ear, land a slot on an album, take another step closer to the A-Team. Others wanted the chance to work with a particular artist for the first time or with an act new to the company in order to strike up a hitmaking rapport.
There is another reason why Berry Gordy was able to consistently extract such innovation and excellence from his artists and producers: a studio band on tap and on top, 24 hours a day.
The Funk Brothers were a cadre of in-house musicians whose skill, instincts and adaptability were the precision tools of the Motown production line. James Jamerson (bass), Benny Benjamin, Uriel Jones and Pistol Allen (drums), Joe Hunter, Earl Van Dyke and Johnny Griffith (keyboards), Robert White, Joe Messina and Eddie Willis (guitars), Jack Ashford (vibes and percussion), James Gittins (vibes), Eddie Bongo Brown (congas/bongos) and others came to know instinctively what each producer wanted and needed, as did arrangers Paul Riser, David Van dePitte, Wade Marcus and Willie Shorter. Without the occupants of the snake pit, as the recording studio was dubbed, Motown simply could not have sustained the quality and quantity of its output.
The world knows well the winners that the process produced. This collection is a chance to journey back to those Friday morning meetings remember, be punctual or the door is locked and to hear what was on those spinning acetates.
These recordings recall another truth of 2648 West Grand: that it was the artists of Motown who gave these songs the passion and depth required to make them the crown jewels of 20th century popular music. These are timeless copyrights, to be sure, but each was given resonance and longevity by the unique talents of Marvin, Martha, Diana, David, Gladys, and Stevie.
Of course, Berry was shrewd enough to seek additional insurance for his companys prime assets. From the beginning, he lectured the Motown roster on the virtues of versatility, schooling them to handle the work of such Tin Pan Alley magicians as Cole Porter, Rodgers & Hart, and George Gershwin. He made sure that these American classics were part of his artists stage repertoire, to guarantee their appeal to adult audiences at nightclubs in New York, Las Vegas, or London.
Gordy originally thought that long after Money (Thats What I Want) and The Way You Do The Things You Do and Stop! In The Name Of Love had fallen off the Top 40, the Temptations, the Supremes, Marvin Gaye and all the other stars in his galaxy could depend on Ol Man River and Climb Evry Mountain to pull a crowd, to raise a cheer, to tap into the continuity of American culture.
The supreme irony of this approach is that the Motown songbook itself has become part of that continuity. My Girl, I Heard It Through The Grapevine, Ooo Baby Baby and many other West Grand treasures have now been absorbed into the world's permanent musical vocabulary.
For the man who began as a songwriter more than 45 revolutionary years ago, how sweet it surely is.